Aesthetics and Modernity

Toward a New Philosophical Functionalization of Art

by Iwona Lorenc (Author)
©2021 Monographs 160 Pages
Series: Modernity in Question, Volume 16


The contents of this book deliberate on the questions related to the function of art and to aesthetics as they exist in the context of the most salient philosophical and cultural late modernist tendencies. The book extracts cornerstone elements of the ever-changing ways people of the 20th and 21st centuries experience the world, and highlights the relation between shifts in modern art, and the processes of fictionalization. Particular focus was placed on a phenomenological perspective. The publication introduces novelty by showcasing the links between reflecting on late modernity, and the philosophical concepts and methodological capabilities of phenomenology. It is a panoramic outlook over existing views, and simultaneously a self-sufficient theoretical proposal.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Introduction: Toward a New Philosophical Functionalization of the Concept of Art
  • 1. The Blurring of Boundaries: Fiction–Reality and Contemporary Art
  • 1. The world experienced as fiction: rooting out the truth and lack of its solid foundation
  • 2. Rhetorization of contemporary culture and artistic games with fictionalization
  • 3. Conclusions
  • 2. Subversive Artistic Strategies of the Avant-Garde and the Crisis of Modern Experience
  • 1. Introduction: The Gambit of the Avant-Garde
  • 2. Toward new materiality
  • 3. Problematic return to reality
  • 4. Ontology versus ideology; thing versus meaning
  • 5. Rhetorization of cultural reality: ideology versus politics
  • 6. Toward a new sense of artistic criticality
  • 7. Conclusions
  • 3. Aesthetic Participation as a Realization of Social and Cultural Poiesis
  • 1. Emancipation of participatory aesthetics from the imperative of aesthetic autonomy and aesthetic distance
  • 2. Proxemic relationship as a prerequisite for the model of participatory aesthetics (Maffesoli)
  • 3. Art as participatory means of shaping social relations (Bourriaud’s relational aesthetics)
  • 4. Conclusions
  • 4. “Theoretical turn” in post-avant-garde art and the aesthetics of de-differentiation
  • 1. Introduction. Aestheticization and de-differentiation
  • 2. De-differentiation
  • 3. Indistinction and de-differentiation phenomena and their meaning for the philosophical reflection on art.
  • 4. Conclusions
  • 5. Aesthetic Research on the Landscape Under the Light of the Transformation in Contemporary Humanities. Toward Landscape Phenomenology
  • 1. The aesthetic experience of landscape in the contemporary humanities
  • 2. The significance of the Heideggerian and phenomenological viewpoints for the studies of landscape
  • 3. From phenomenology to philosophical anthropology
  • 6. Phenomenology of Art and the Tensions Within the Field of Modern Experience
  • 1. Introductory remarks
  • 2. Between transcendentalism and hermeneutics: from Husserl to Heidegger
  • 3. Selected Criticisms of Husserl’s Design of Genetic Phenomenolgy
  • 4. The experience of living presence and the cultural objectivity of meanings
  • 5. Between Sense and Meaning: poiesis (Heidegger)
  • 6. What is the aesthetic in modern phenomenology
  • 7. Painting in a phenomenological and hermeneutical perspective. Examples
  • 7.1. The trace of dizziness – paintings of Katarzyna Ferworn-Horawa
  • 7.2. Outside the deep–superficial dychotomy – the Art of Henryk Musiałowicz
  • 7. Experience and Language. Witkacy in Contemporary Interpretive Contexts
  • 1. The trap of interpretive anachronism. Witkacy – a theorist or artist?
  • 2. Between two models of experience
  • 3. The crisis of metaphysical concepts of language and Witkacy’s figural language
  • In Place of Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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The essays, which form the core of this book, developed throughout the last several years. They came out as separate, autonomous texts. However, they are all informed by the same attitude which combines two research perspectives: philosophical-aesthetic reflection on modernity, one the one hand, and phenomenological reflection, on the other. Thus, the texts assembled in this volume make up a certain whole which not only shows the relationship between the two research paths but also fits within their common framework. In what follows, I grapple with a recurring question which has preoccupied my philosophical and aesthetic research in recent years, namely: How have the functions of the aesthetic changed today in the context of the leading philosophical and cultural trends of late modernity?

Are the aesthetic’s functionalization routes, such as emancipation, compensation, criticism, communication, escapist function, or totalization, carved out by modernity, still valid? What is the aesthetic today: an escape from the world, a way of manifesting the truth, a way of reintegrating and repairing the world, constructing new possibilities or just entertainment, easy consolation, illusion? Perhaps, it is possible to discover new connections between the routes – connections which exist but which are not yet visible or evident – marked out on the map of philosophical, aesthetic, and artistic practices that answer the above questions? In the following chapters, which are modified versions of my previous articles, I elaborate on such connections. I test my conviction – and one can treat it as a thesis – that there is a strong connection between late-modern cultural and philosophical ways of art functionalization and phenomenology, especially in its contemporary version. I believe that the phenomenological perspective shows its particular philosophical and methodological usefulness in recognizing many changes that occurred, and are still occurring, in the late-modern way of experiencing the world. I refer to the transformations in the scope that is necessary to raise the above-mentioned aesthetic issues. Applying such a perspective, I bring out some dominants in the transformation of human experience of the world in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, emphasizing a variety of phenomena linked to the functionalization of reality. First of all, I refer to the authors of the time. Hence the term “new functionalization” used in the title. The notion is also new in the sense that the perception of the links between the reflection on the state of late modernity and the philosophical assumptions and methodological possibilities of phenomenology is neither frequent nor sufficiently ← 9 | 10 →developed, at least in the field of aesthetics. In this book, I do not aim to present systemic approaches to such relationships. Rather, I sketch them as possibilities, the beginning of the path I wish to promote. Hence the cautious preposition “toward” used in the title.

“Aesthetics and Modernity” is also the title of a seminar I have been conducting for over ten years in the Institute of Philosophy at the University of Warsaw. The seminar gathered many young researchers, some of whom have already gone their own independent ways, and practicing artists. I owe them special gratitude. The lively seminar discussions were a strong impulse for me to gather up traces and parts I recorded – and to rethink them.

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Introduction: Toward a New Philosophical Functionalization of the Concept of Art1

Contemporary philosophical thinking about art must face the challenge posed by the deep transformation that is taking place in philosophy itself – the change in its perspectives and instruments. It also has to meet the challenge presented by artistic practice that constantly pushes the boundaries of art, its place within broadly understood social, cultural, and economic practices, as well as the changing character of sensibility of contemporary audiences.

On the one hand, contemporary high art is doing fairly well: museums, philharmonics, opera theatres are far from empty (although, we are more or less commonly aware of the functional transformations in the field of social, political or market contexts of these institutions). On the other hand, however, the substitution of stable structures of experience with the experience of happening and disappearing, medialization or broadly understood aesthetization of our world manifest themselves, among others, in the form of mutual permeation of high and popular art, and everyday experiences. We listen to classical music in the car, contemporary opera or film mix genres, classical pieces are combined with pop music.

No wonder that traditional aesthetics, borne out of the spirit of Baumgarten and Kant, the philosophy of art that draws on the philosophy that systemically legitimizes traditional values (such as beauty, the sublime, pathos, the tragic, etc.) becomes subject to renewed, sometimes skeptical, methodological, but also interdisciplinary reflection. More and more often, it concerns the relation between the transformations taking place in contemporary art and the processes of phenomenalization resp. fictionalization of contemporary reality (following in the footsteps of Nietzche, Vattimo, on the one hand, and Baudrillard, Debord, on the other). In consequence of this reflection, if we do not wish to deprive aesthetics of its broad, philosophical breath, it has to rethink its metaphysical lineage in view of the transformation taking place in philosophy itself as well as revise the concepts that it operates with. Especially, given that we still have trouble applying the instruments of traditional aesthetics that is tied to metaphysics to contemporary reality – to the requirements of contemporary humanities and, at the same time, to the requirements of changing art.

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In the humanities, philosophy, and aesthetics, traditional terms, such as art, are still valid and we continue to go back to the old solutions that have been well established in the history of philosophy. At the same time, however, the philosophical crisis of traditional metaphysics and the break from systemic practice of philosophy deprives aesthetics of its safe place among the faculties that could comprise a hierarchical and structured whole.

I do not believe that the awareness of such a state of affairs should lead us to and completely give into the ephemeric fascinations with absolutized new centers that are characteristic of contemporary humanities, and which are supposed to organize the field of research on art, and make us abandon the philosophical ground of reflection as “essential thinking” (to use Heidegger’s language) for the sake of such fascinations.

The term used by contemporary humanities is “turn.” It seems that it replaces the former divisions of experiences based on the assumption of independence and separation of legitimizations of particular fields. Authors who wrote about this phenomenon, such as Medick-Bachmann2 or the authors of the collective work entitled Zwroty badawcze w humanistyce. Konteksty poznawcze, kulturowe i społeczno-instytucjonalne3 enumerate the following turns: interpretative, reflexive, performative, memory, spatial, somatic, affective, and iconic. The list remains open, however, let us add: aesthetic (e.g. in phenomenology), posthumanist, linguistic, narrative, and textual turn. The multitude of universalizing claims, new perspectives that come to be called “turns” comprise an open, dynamic, and labile picture of contemporary humanities, whose more or less ephemeric centers are trying to subsume as broad thematic field as possible, and at the same time – in response to the proposed perspective – provoke the generation of ever new centers. It is no longer a picture of a calm and static coexistence that could be led (the question is if they ever did?) by separate domains of experience, which had their own legitimization, deriving their autonomy from the old, Kantian division into faculties.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (April)
modern experiencing fictionalization of reality art autonomy phenomenology of painting landscape phenomenology art phenomenology
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 160 pp., 20 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Iwona Lorenc (Author)

Iwona Lorenc, Professor, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Warsaw. Fields of interest: the contemporary philosophy of art, history of aesthetics, and contemporary, chiefly francophone, philosophy (phenomenology, hermeneutics, postmodernism).


Title: Aesthetics and Modernity
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162 pages